Karma Yoga, Performing Desireless Actions

Bhagavadgita Teaching

by N.Amarnath

Summary: In this essay, the author presents the importance of karma yoga. The practice jnana yoga is not possible without a quiet mind. For that, the Bhagavadgita suggests a unique approach, the practice of karma yoga with an attitude of renunciation or the performance of actions without the desire for their fruit. Karma sanyasa yoga leads to equanimity, and with equanimity one can stabilize the mind.


Importance of knowledge

Three functions are declared for an incarnation of God in Chapter 4 verse 8 in the Bhagavad-Gita. These are:

  1. To protect the righteous;
  2. To annihilate the Un-righteous; and
  3. To establish the rule of Righteousness ( Dharma ).

By imparting the right knowledge Lord Krishna has ensured the divine plan go ahead smoothly is what we have seen. The choosing of the time and place for the teaching can be appreciated from the point of the subject matter of the Gita also. Imparting Brahma vidya, The Knowledge of the Self , is the Goal of the teaching. Given the plurality of the nature of human minds Gita also explains in full detail the Means , the Yogasastra, Action with a Certain Attitude ( Karma Yoga ). It may sound contradictory of purpose. If Knowledge is to be gained, why action is recommended?

Any Knowledge is to take place in the mind only. All human beings driven by their own combination of natural attributes, ( Sattva, Rajas and Tamas Gunas) are continuously engaged in action with expectation of various results. Mind becomes more and more turbulent as successes and failures are enjoyed by it as a result of actions. Successes are sought after, failures are frowned upon and each action is followed by another action endlessly. If that is so, then can one stop doing all actions and attempt to gain only the Supreme Knowledge? It is easier said than done. It is impossible to remain action less by any one with their natural disposition.

Knowledge cannot be achieved by action; it has to be perceived in a quiet mind. The state of actionlessness, to achieve a quiet mind, is impossible. If that be so, what is the solution for this quagmire?

Lord Krishna offers a way out in his teachings in the Gita. He has introduced the famous and ingenious concept, very popular as Karma Yoga, Action with a Certain Attitude. The Karma Yoga topic itself will be discussed in greater details later. The essence of it is that everyone must do their enjoined duty to the best of one's ability as oblation to the God, ( Iswararpitha Buddhi ) who is the giver of such abilities to each one: and when the result of one's action is received one must have the maturity to accept the same as a grace coming from the God. ( Prasada Buddhi ) Such a disposition while doing action and accepting results, over a period of time, purifies the mind from the clutches of its endless likes and dislikes and qualifies the mind to receive the highest Knowledge, knowing which one is free from bondage and the sense of limitation.

Actions are inevitable. No one can remain without performing any actions. Performing actions with an attitude of detachment and renunciation purifies the mind. Only a pure mind can grasp the Knowledge of Self, which is also the highest knowledge attainable by any human being. That Knowledge alone frees one from bondage and the limitation of the mind and senses. Free from bondage and sense limitations, one experiences peace and happiness, which is what many people seek in their lives.

The importance of desireless actions

While emphasizing the role of Action for one's spiritual advancement Lord Krishna does not want to give a choice to anybody. Perhaps, that is why, he has given the teaching when the most difficult action is to be performed . In the words of Arjuna, the great warrior King, he is willing to live on alms, rather than waging a war against his own fraternity, revered elders and most importantly his own teacher of warfare.( Chapter 2 Verse 5 ). Lord Krishna disagrees and logically proves that action to be done must be done, irrespective of one's likes and dislikes, for one to achieve purification of mind and there from the highest Knowledge of Self. Even if such a grave action of war is no exception, what to talk of simple actions we are supposed to do in our own lives.

So, in the context of the teaching, it is not war that is encouraged by God, but right action with certain attitude. For the emphasize of action no other context would have better suited.

Therefore, the observation that God encouraged war is not tenable. In the same Mahabharata God himself endeavored and exhausted all possibilities to avert the war. War, in the context of the teaching must be seen only as an inevitable, undesired albeit the right action to be performed and not confused with an action of annihilation and greed.

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